Paleolithic Vs. Neolithic Art: how and why are they Different?

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Updated: Nov 30, 2023
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An exploration of the distinctions between Paleolithic and Neolithic art, examining the stylistic and thematic changes over time. The essay will highlight how evolving human societies, technological advancements, and environmental factors influenced artistic expression in these periods. More free essay examples are accessible at PapersOwl about Agriculture.

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Painted on the walls of a hidden cave in southern France are line drawings of animals that are native to the land and depictions of stories explaining everyday life of hunter-gatherers that the artist created dating 30,000 years old. The Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave is one of the most well-preserved accounts of history from its period. It challenges the ideals that “primitive” people only focused on day to day living with food being the main concern. The cave demonstrates that Paleolithic people would draw and paint, often in new perspective presenting their knowledge of self-awareness, a higher level of thinking.

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There is evidence to suggest that humans did not migrate to follow animals for hunting but quite possibly for religious purposes. The earth also changes its environment and certain locations become inhabitable to support life. This results in humans becoming more adaptive and migrating to a different location of the world to be able to survive. Humans created a meaningful culture, and specifically Paleolithic and Neolithic populations created a sense of community and purpose that stretches far beyond eating.

Humans have always had an impact on the Earth, and throughout history, there is evidence showing how human survived off the land with the use of agricultural practices and documentation of native animals. Humans adapted to their environment and used technology requiring communication to fix problems that accompanied the environmental surroundings. As the technology improved, so did the quality of life and made it easier to focus on things other than survival. The earth started to be shaped by the humans, rather than humans relying on the earth to provide them with the resources they needed. The “Sahara Pump” was the typical migration that humans traveled from one portion to another because of changes in season. If an area had wetter soil it allowed the population to thrive due to vegetation and agricultural practices on the land. There is documentation of certain animal populations decreasing as human migration and population increased. Scientists suggest that humans would try and decrease the predatory species to survive, proving that humans managed to communicate and create solutions for hunting mass amounts of animals. Many of these people would migrate in hopes of finding more suitable land and possibly for religious purposes. Fire allowed Paleolithic people to survive in colder parts of the world and to cook food that may be too cold to eat, so migrating from colder to warmer locations was common. The use of fire lowered mortality rates and brought people closer together around a central location providing warmth. Religion is a communal activity that includes rituals and communication among members believing in a higher power that moves them. These practices create community and a sense of culture with the people included in who partake in the tradition much bigger than themselves.

Art is an area that affects our everyday life and is a path of self-expression and visual storytelling. Art brings people together and can unite people under one culture, while also representing everyday life and common cultural themes. Within the modern era, there have been discoveries of artifacts along with intense research on the sculptural pieces, with theories about the culture in the Paleolithic and Neolithic era. In the year 1939, a piece of carved mammoth tusk was found in Germany. The carved sculpture had the body of a man and the head of a lion. This kind of symbolic gesture of attaching an animal head to a male body suggests that humans 40,000 years ago could cognitively construct ideas that didn’t exist in their present day. The sculpture made of ivory was smooth due the constant touching and rubbing, suggesting this artifact was passed down from generation to generation. The Lion Man Sculpture, measuring around twelve inches, showcased the concept that Paleolithic and Neolithic people had artistic abilities and presented the idea that at the time religious characters may have played a part in their daily lives. The Venus of Willendorf is another sculpture made of limestone that dates around 25,000 years old. This sculpture, like the idea of the Lion Man sculpture, represented a human body. On the other hand, this sculpture is unique in the sense that it is molded after a female body that is curvaceous signifying the fertility of women as well as femininity. The Venus of Willendorf has intricate carvings that resemble braided hair or a woven headdress. The braided design around the head signifies that culture at the time had interest in advanced ornamental dressing. Another major discovery was the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave in southern France. Discovered in 1994, the cave showcased many figure drawings of wildlife, likely native to the land. The drawings had a variety of natural colors and tones, proving the artist had a unique sense of style and advanced artistic abilities. The specific deer depiction also held an interesting secret; it covered up an older depiction of a volcanic event. Painting the volcano eruption was a way of documenting history and storytelling giving the artist a voice to show to others. Many of the compositions are layered, and while many excavators were puzzled by the overlapping of images, researchers discovered that the overlapping was intentional for storytelling and symbolism. All the examples of art exemplify the fact that during the Paleolithic era, humans were culturally advanced and used art as a way of communicating and storytelling. They used it as a way of self-expression and to document everyday surrounding.

Paleolithic people possessed forms of spirituality, causing many to express these forms of spirituality through music. People would typically dance to the music made from musical instruments. There are flutes that have been discovered dating around 35,000 years old built of bones. These constructions were handmade and display a level of advanced tool making, considering they produce sound. Theories produced by Charles Darwin suggest that vocal sound coming from humans are a result of mating rituals like how certain animal species use sounds to attract the opposite sex. Many Paleolithic people would dance to the music, adding to the spiritual experience of the rhythms. Dancing could have very well been a cultural practice for paleolithic people, allowing them to reach altered states of mentality and experience visions. Many researchers believe that these spiritual moments and religious views led to the idea of the anamorphic being, for example, the Lion Man sculpture.

The Paleolithic humans are some of the first examples of how culture plays a role in our modern lives. These people displayed forms of advanced technology, artistic talent, and a spirituality, all very similar to the cultural world we live in. Culture is defined as “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” (Culture, 1) Paleolithic and Neolithic humans discovered the use of fire which led to lower rates of mortality and the ability to break down enzymes in meat and food. They created tools for not only hunting but also to create music. They used art to express history and self-expression, something very similar to how we would describe art in today’s cultural society. All these advancements require intellect that leads to what humans are today, a highly advanced species with cutting-edge technology while artistically creating a world that is our own. Even 40,000 years ago, people were not only focused on their next meal but maybe about leaving behind an imprint of their culture. 

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Paleolithic vs. Neolithic Art: How and Why are They Different?. (2021, May 09). Retrieved from